Cubans and Obama’s Inauguration

Cubans in Obama’s Inauguration

Cubans have left and continue to leave an indelible mark in this country with their extraordinary talent. In show biz, the first name that comes to mind is Desi Arnaz, who won the hearts of the American public with his portrayal of Ricky Ricardo in the weekly TV comedy show I love Lucy. In music, all one has to say is azúcar and the name Celia Cruz will be shouted back. Another important musician of Cuban extraction is Gloria Stefan. To read more about these and other names in the same and other fields, I recommend the book The Cubans: Our Legacy in the United States by Fernando Hernandez, available on Amazon (

Cubans have shined not only in the fields of entertainment, music, and sports, but also in politics. Three Cuban-Americans have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (two Republicans from South Florida and one Democrat from New Jersey). The involvement of Cubans in politics, however, is not a recent phenomenon. During Richard Nixon’s administration, Cuban Charles (Bebe) Rebozo, although not active in public office, was known as the President’s close friend and advisor.

Recently, two Cubans have grabbed the spotlight because of an invitation by President Obama to participate in his inauguration program. Rev. Luís León, Episcopal Priest, has been asked to say the closing prayer and Richard Blanco to serve as the official poet, an honor bestowed upon African American poet, Maya Angelou, at Obama’s first inauguration.  Blanco is the only Hispanic and the youngest to serve in the role of “official poet” at a presidential inauguration.

The reaction among Cubans to Obama’s invitation has been mixed. Those with strong Republican leanings find it distasteful, particularly in the case of Rev. Luís León, who fled Cuba at the age of 11 and participated in the Pedro Pan program*, an effort in which the Catholic Church played a leading role with support from the US government to offer refuge to Cuban children arriving in this country without their parents. These Cubans believe Obama’s presidency shows evidence of socialism; some even call it a dictatorship not unlike the regime we left behind and feel strongly that we as Cubans should not support this American President  in any way.

Cubans who see themselves as liberal Democrats, on the other hand, view Obama’s choice as the President’s desire to ease relations between this country and Cuba, and as reflection of his views in favor of marriage equality and women’s rights. The Episcopal Church, unlike the Catholic Church, accepts gays and women into the priesthood, ergo the invitation extended to Rev. Luís León, Episcopal priest, and to poet Richard Blanco who is openly gay. These liberal Democrats view their compatriots’ participation in the inauguration as something of great pride and believe that the president is saying thanks to a group that rallied behind him during his re-election campaign.

Both sides of the Cuban equation offer strong arguments. Neither will change its views. The purpose of this blog is not to pit one side against the other, but to point out an important fact. When I arrived in Miami in 1962, the town was a sleepy retirement community and Cubans were viewed as intruders and regarded with contempt.  In a few years, however, Cubans were responsible for turning Miami into a thriving metropolis, and today Cubans are everywhere, leaving their legacy in every facet of American life, even when our participation causes discord among ourselves.

How do you feel about Rev. Luís León and poet Richard Blanco participating in Obama’s inauguration?

*My own experience with the Pedro Pan program is the subject of my recent memoir.

18 thoughts on “Cubans and Obama’s Inauguration

  1. Lorenzo: I sincerely hope that you have not opened a Pandora box. I am going to try to be brief. First, this is a democracy and the President has the right to select who are to play an important role in his inauguration. Second, it is nobody’s business if some of them are black, brown, gay, lesbian, blind, crossed-eye or with any physical or spiritual trait that makes them “different”. We all are the children of God. Third, those protesting must be a very small group of the old guard because the bottom line is that President Obama not only won Florida but also Miami-Dade County for the second time. Those still bitching must accept that they lost the election! It is ironic that many of them are the beneficiaries of laws and regulations enacted during Democratic administrations. If they were not here at that time, they know now. Many of them have exercised the right to exchange their memberships in the UJC or the PCC for an affiliation in the Republican Party. Quite a change! It is their right, but exercise it and leave the rest of us alone. To label the President or those who voted for him as “socialist” or “communist” reveals an ignorance about politics and history beyond my imagination. .

    1. Loren, te doy mi criterio desde mi propia perspectiva y mi pobre ingles. Yo creo que vivimos en democracia y como tal debemos tener en cuenta el respeto a los demas y ser consecuente con la misma. Sin confundier en realidad la palabra democracia y libertad. . Estoy de acuerdo con lo que expresa Pepin, es un tema muy controversial. Pero que para mi no lo es tanto. Soy respetuosa del ser humano como tal. No es importante para mi si es chino , negro blanco gay o espiritsita, pobres o ricas. Mi estimacion y mi fe por el ser humano va por encima de lo que yo considero es trivial….Mis respetos a
      lo que haces.

  2. Former sen. Mel Martinez FL. Was born in Cuba. Present sen Menendez NJ was born in NY Of Cuban Parents he was born same year that they came in 1953.

  3. Lorenzo, this is an excellent article … regardless if we voted for Obama or not. All of those who know me know that I am against communism in any shape or form. I think it’s an honor that two Americans who were born in Cuba are participating. Obviously, I will be disappointed if “reconciliation” has to do with the Castro government. I read somewhere that Rev. Leon’s prayer or Richard Blanco’s poem had to do with “reconciliation”. Hopefully, they will refer within the USA, not with Cuba, of which I am totally against.

    I have good American friends on both side of this topic … I was telling some of them that another way to look at it … it’s that two people who were born in Cuba are participating in the inauguration of an American president.

  4. Fine article Lorenzo, informative the way it should be. I am proud that two Cuban-Americans will participate in the inaguration; I have no political agenda, I am an independent who basically dislikes both parties. I only wish that some day soon a free and democratic election will take place in Cuba to make all of us proud. Unfortunately the reasons I was sent here as a Pedro Pan still exist in the island, the day that dictatorship crumbles and withers away I will cry tears of joy and will return to visit my homeland.

  5. Lorenzo, A very good and well thought out article. I did not like the man from the beginning. His ideas and speaking style reminded me too much of Fidel. I am a Libertarian, and have always believed in a small federal government. Our people are forgetting that we lost our homeland in exchange for a pack of lies. Thomas Jefferson said: ” A government big enough to give you all you need(Or want!), is big enough to take all that you have.

  6. As an American, I was born in a country that was formed by immigrants and I am so very proud of all that have made this country great. My grandparents came here for a better life for themselves and their children. I thank the Cubans that left their homeland and gave up so much to share in this dream that we call America.

    Regardless of political affiliation, we can all be proud of the accomplishments of Rev. Luís León and Richard Blanco. We may not all agree on the policies of the current administration; however, we can be thankful that we live in a country where we are free to openly discuss our political views without fear of reprisal and prosecution.

    America has awkwardly benefitted from the criminal regime that has oppressed the Cuban people for over 50 years. As a result of this tyranny, America has gained many that would have stayed in their homeland. It is a strange twist of fate that so many have come to America to escape oppression and have so richly blessed this nation! I am obviously not in any way condoning repression, but I am thankful that America has welcomed the oppressed with open arms and has become all the better for it!

    As a teacher, I showcase the accomplishments of Cuban-Americans. For example, I routinely show a video about Café Pilon and how it was started by those that escaped the tyrannical regime of Fidel Castro. It is encouraging to see how those that had their dreams and hopes for a better life stolen from them being able to come to this country and succeed.

    In the classroom, I see the hope in the eyes of students that will share in this realized dream that we call America. I have had the pleasure of sharing knowledge with those of all races, creeds, and cultures. It is this “melting pot” that has evolved into a place that so many of us call home!

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union Address, spoke about Four Freedoms.

    These words are taken directly from that speech:

    “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

    The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

    The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

    The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

    The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.”

    For Cuban-Americans, this is especially frustrating since their homeland has been ruled by a criminal regime for over 50 years. The Four Freedoms outlined by Roosevelt seem to be a distant dream. Take heart, as the Bible says, “This too shall pass.” Let us hope that those words go from our lips to God’s ears and that a free Cuba will come soon!

      1. Thank you – Glorita has told me many wonderful things about you! Glorita tells me that your Dad was also a wonderful man! Her father had a lot of respect for him!

  7. Me ha agradado mucho el comentario que hizo el Sr. George, de verdad sus palabras me hacen sentir muy orgullosa de vivir en su pais…Mis respetos. Marielena Aguilera. .

  8. As a 2nd generation Cuban-American, I am a bit removed from the passions that form the basis of the prior comments. I am very proud to see Cubans represented prominently in Obama’s inauguration. Each wave of immigrants has contributed to the fabric of life and the richness of the United States; Cubans are part of that incredible tradition.

    The amazing thing about the US is that regardless of how partisan and ugly elections are (and they have been since the birth of the nation), once the votes are counted, power passes to the winner without bloodshed. Those who are unhappy with Obama’s policies will have an opportunity to elect his successor in four years, and the peaceful transfer will happen again. It is truly an amazing concept when you look at how rarely that has happened throughout the world, throughout history.

  9. Blanco wrote in his poem, “My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
    each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day.” How remarkable that in the United States each “face,” every person gets to participate in the democratic process — peacefully electing our leaders to represent us and the vision we hold for our country.

    We disagree. We change. We grow. We evolve. We falter. Yet the democratic process goes on. I’m extraordinarily proud to be a part of it.

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